This band was a real treat at the March 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay — their enthusiasm, their willingness to get dirty, their skill, their passions, and in a repertoire that went comfortably from Ellington to a Buck Clayton Jam Session to Johnny Dodds. I’m speaking of Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, which in that weekend’s incarnation, was Clint, trumpet; Riley Baker, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [for this set]; Jess King, guitar, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. And today I want to share only one performance — because it knocked me out, as they used to say and still do — the groovy Ellington blues, with Rex Stewart certainly a co-composer, SOLID OLD MAN. (I worry about the punctuation of that title, but you should hear the music first.)
SOLID OLD MAN is perhaps most famous as a tune that Rex, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor brought to Europe for their recording session with Django Reinhardt — a recording session that is completely ingrained in my heart for perhaps fifty years. Note the more accurate composer credits!
But two postscripts. I taught college English for a long time (a LONG time!) and I know that punctuation makes a difference. I can see the recording supervisor at Brunswick or Master Records, after the session, saying to Ellington, “Duke, what do you call that one?” and Ellington answering in the common parlance of the time, “Solid, old man!” in the sense of “Great work!” or “I totally agree with you, my friend!” or “You and I are brothers.” But it always has had an implicit comma, a pause, as it were. And certainly an explicit exclamation point. So, to me, its title is lacking and perhaps misleading: when I see SOLID OLD MAN, I think of someone over six feet, weighing over three hundred pounds, who has been collecting Social Security for years. Perhaps a security guard at the mall.
The second postscript is not a matter of proofreading. Last night I was on Facebook (my first error) and reading a controversy in a jazz group about who was good and who was bad (my second) that got quite acrimonious. Facebook encourages bad-mannered excesses; I was uncharacteristically silent. But I noted one member of the group (an amateur string player) made a snide remark about “California Dixieland,” and when a professional musician of long-standing asked him to define what he was mocking, the speaker — perhaps having more opinions than knowledge — fell silent. Unnamed adjudicator of taste, I don’t know if you read this blog. But if you do, I suggest you listen to SOLID OLD MAN ten or twenty times to get your perceptions straight before you opine again. And those of us who know what’s good can simply enjoy the performance many times for its own singular beauties.
May your happiness increase!